Dongguk Univ. unlikely to receive $50 mil in damages from Yale

The Korea Times, August 16, 2013

A U.S. appeals court in New York Thursday rejected a defamation lawsuit filed by Dongguk University against Yale University, ruling that the Ivy League college did not intentionally damage the reputation of the school in Seoul.

Dongguk hired Shin Jeong-ah as its art history professor in September 2005 based on a fax from Yale which wrongly confirmed that she had earned a doctorate from the school the same year.

Controversy erupted two years later when Dongguk discovered that Shin might have plagiarized her dissertation and emailed an inquiry to a Yale librarian, who said the Ivy League school had no record of Shin's dissertation, the appeals court said. Other administrators confirmed she never obtained a degree, and Shin resigned from Dongguk in June 2007.

Dongguk said that it will review the ruling first, and decide whether to make an appeal later.

"We are not giving a statement on the ruling yet. After reviewing it thoroughly, we will decide what our next steps are to be, including the appeal," said Yoon Jae-woong, a spokesman of the college.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan upheld the ruling of a Connecticut district court which last year dismissed the lawsuit filed by Dongguk in 2008.

"Dongguk has failed to provide sufficient clear and convincing proof of actual malice on the part of Carney (Yale Deputy General Counsel Susan Carney) to withstand a summary judgment," stated the court in the ruling.

The court also cited errors of the Korean university, saying it failed to check misspellings on Shin's documentation which falsely argued that she graduated from the school.

"The certification contained an exact reproduction of the signature of Yale Associate Dean Pamela Schirmeister, but her name was misspelled both as 'Schirmestr' as was the word 'century' in her listed subjects 'Twenty Centry Art.' Nevertheless, Dongguk hired Shin on September 1, 2005," said the court in the ruling.  

Shin's case has drawn huge public and media attention at the time, raising questions about the college's ability to filter out rotten apples during its process of hiring professors.

The controversy worsened after media reported that Shin had an affair with former presidential aide Byeon Yang-kyoon who was accused of using his influence to get Shin hired by Dongguk and covering up the fraud.

He was forced to step down as an aide to then-President Roh Moo-hyun because of the scandal.

The Korean school's lawsuit asserted claims for defamation, negligence and reckless conduct, saying it was "publicly humiliated and deeply shamed in the eyes of the Korean public."

The school claimed that it lost more than $50 million in government grants, alumni donations and other damages. In the 2008 lawsuit, the school asked for $50 million in compensation.

The lawsuit sought to hold Yale accountable for having confirmed the existence of the doctorate degree, only to later claim through administrators that the confirmation was bogus and never occurred. 

By Kim Jae-won


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